Not only was I very glad to be offered this duty but the sunshine also turned up and bathed the day with warmth and brightness. The wedding couple had chosen Crosville DFG81 (891VFM), built in 1962 as a closed top double deck bus, as their transport for the day.
This vehicle is no stranger to these pages but it has benefitted recently from a mechanical overhaul, some bodywork repairs and a repaint into Tilling Cream. The icing on the cake, as I’m sure you will agree from the photos, is the application of period advertising. As a former graphic designer I was very pleased to see this, as I think it adds a touch of authenticity to an already stunning bus.
Unlike some heritage buses and coaches I’ve driven, this FSF started readily as it has always done. Others seem very reluctant and many’s the time I’ve listened with a sinking feeling as the batteries run out of puff, requiring booster pack assistance to get the engine started.
Once all my checks had been done I drove out of town and across what was once the main runway of RAF Locking. Most of the former airfield is now being developed for housing and many of the new roads on the estate have been given names relating to its former life as an airfield such as Gypsy Moth Road, Leonides Avenue and Rapide Way*.
The pickup point was in a fairly narrow residential road in Locking village and I had earlier flagged up the possibility of difficulties with gaining access, if parked cars became an issue. Thankfully I was able to weave my way between them successfully and arrived in good time. The bride and groom plus others in the wedding party were delighted with the bus and, although there were less than a dozen of them, they boarded noisily in the morning sunshine.
An extra pickup point was requested on the way for more family members so, once they were on board, we trundled onwards. By now I had settled into Lodekka mode and did my best to give my passengers a pleasant ride with no grinding or crashing of gears. Thankfully the only noises from the gearbox were musical ones!
The quickest route to the Register Office in the town centre was straight down the dual carriageway but, as most of the passengers were on the top deck and we still had plenty of time, I decided to drive to Uphill and thence along the seafront to the Register Office. Well, it seemed only fair! Long term roadworks had blocked off the bus stop we normally use for dropping off at the Register Office so I pulled up just around the corner next to the main entrance to the Town Hall and arranged to pick everyone up at the same place later.
I went and parked in the ‘Coaches Only’ lane next to the beach to await the call to return. True to form, someone stopped to chat to me about the bus. He was an ex-Westonian now living in South Africa and told me that he remembered the open top Lodekkas that once ran in service along Weston-super-Mare seafront en-route to Uphill and Brean. When he asked if this was one of them, I had to disappoint him as this one used to run in North Wales originally but it was very similar to a batch of convertible FS Lodekkas which he would have seen back then.
A text message from the groom duly arrived and I started up the trusty Gardner 6LW again and drove a short distance to pick up my passengers again. Their onward journey to the reception venue was equally short – a little further along the seafront to The Old Thatched Cottage. This is a quaint little building which dates from 1774 and claims to be the oldest building in town.
I now had a three hour break before returning to pick everyone up again so I took the bus home with me, where there is easy parking right outside, and had a leisurely lunch. Driving back to the seafront later, I saw my friend Paul Jones who let me out of a junction nearby while driving his classic VW Beetle. It wasn’t long before he turned up to take some photos of the bus while I waited for another text message. He has kindly allowed me to use two of his photos on this page.
The purists among you may protest about the incorrect livery but ‘he who pays the piper, calls the tune’! Strictly speaking, as this bus was converted by Crosville Motor Services to open top in 1977, it should wear an all-over white livery and the National Bus Company double-N fleetname, as seen in this photo from 1984.
I was soon summoned to pick up the wedding guests again so I made my way back to the bus stop outside Weston College’s town centre campus and waited for everybody to trickle back from the reception venue. This time we carried the bride’s mother as well, an elderly lady in a wheelchair. I tipped my busman’s hat to her in time-honoured style. It was quite a palaver getting her and the wheelchair on board but I was reluctant to leap forward and lend a hand due to the current coronavirus situation and social distancing. Normally I would not hesitate of course.
This time our return route took us out of town on the main road, which was fairly busy with Saturday afternoon traffic. In order to make progress at junctions I had to step on the loud pedal quite vigorously but my challenge is always to do it smoothly and without throwing my passengers out of their seats!
I think I must have been successful because I received many compliments from departing passengers, both on the condition of the superb bus and the way I drove it. I came away pleased that not only was the customer very satisfied but also that I had not lost my touch with one of my favourite crash box Bristol buses.
I have a number of other duties booked in, using this and other vehicles from the Crosville Vintage fleet, for the rest of 2021. Bring it on!
*If my memory serves me correctly, the DeHavilland Gypsy Moth was a biplane trainer for the RAF between the wars; the Alvis Leonides was a radial engine that powered some of Great Britian’s early helicopters and the DeHavilland Dragon Rapide was a twin engined passenger biplane from the same era as the Gypsy Moth.